NASA has a goal for humans to one day live and work on Mars. However, getting there will be very difficult for many technical reasons including the known adverse human health impacts of life in zero gravity. In specific, many astronauts experience permanent damage to their eyes. The longer they are in space, the more damage occurs. This is a major problem if we want to send people to Mars as they might not be able to see when they get there!
Researchers at University of Idaho are developing engineering-based image analysis methods to analyze MRI measurements collected before and after space flight. They look at the images taken in multiple slices through the eye and optic nerve and quantify changes in the geometry after space flight. The idea is to determine if there are geometric indicators that could predict which astronauts would have more eye damage and not send those people to space or, by looking at the changes, identify countermeasures that could be done in space to help reduce eye damage.
The porcelain sculpture is a scaled-up deconstructed rendering of the human eye and optic nerve. To create this sculpture, the artist first took a 3D file of the eye based on MR images provided by the scientist. This eye was then scaled up in a 3D modeling software and then sliced into many smaller parts. These parts were then cut out of wooden blocks using a 3-axis CNC router. These blocks were then used to create negative plaster molds. Porcelain clay was then pressed into the molds and removed for drying. After that the positive eye parts were fired in a kiln. The final parts were re-assembled in a line. Note that the two eyes on the ends have their back part indented and first slice after that enlarged. This is the region of the eye that is typically damaged in astronauts.
Funding for this project was provided by the University of Idaho, Vandal Ideas Project called "Visualizing Science" and the Idaho Space Grant Consortium (ISGC). The Visualizing Science project seeks to bring together teams of outstanding University of Idaho artists, designers and scientists to create visual interpretations of scientific issues important to the state, region and world. The interdisciplinary project creates relationships between scholars who don’t traditionally collaborate to build foundations for continued growth and future projects suitable for grant funding. From climate change to fire science, University of Idaho scientists are on the cutting edge of scientific discovery. Likewise, University of Idaho artists and designers are exhibiting their work in a wide variety of media on the international stage.